Opera in English: Does it Make a Difference?

by Kirk Webb

Throughout the semester, we have seen several Italian operas and a couple of German operas. Recently, I began to wonder if operas written with English librettos ever gained any popularity. After doing some research, I learned that English operas do exist, but they never gained as much popularity as the Italian operas and were relatively uncommon until the 20th century. As you learn about the following operas and watch some video clips, how does the English libretto change the way you experience the performance? Do you find that you are more easily able to connect with the music when you can understand the libretto? Also, in the following videos, the two operas are interpreted extremely differently in terms of scale. Which do you prefer?

“Dido and Aeneas”, by Henry Purcell, was completed in 1683 and is considered by many to be the first English-language operatic masterpiece. The synopsis can be found via this link: http://www.florentineopera.org/current-season/archive/ten-eleven-season/dido-aeneas-and-venus-adonis/synopsis-of-dido-aeneas.html

“Dido’s Lament” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ivlUMWUJ-1w


Thy hand, Belinda, darkness shades me,

On thy bosom let me rest,

More I would, but Death invades me;

Death is now a welcome guest.

When I am laid, am laid in earth, May my wrongs create

No trouble, no trouble in thy breast;

Remember me, remember me, but ah! forget my fate.

Remember me, but ah! forget my fate.

“Acis and Galatea”, composed by Handel in 1731, was the only Handel opera set to an English libretto. It is known as a pastoral opera, conveying the simplicity of rural life in England. It tells the story of Acis, a shepherd, and Galatea, a nymph. They fall in love and are joyful until Polyphemus, a giant, appears and eventually kills Acis. Galatea mourns Acis and then immortalizes him by turning him into a beautiful fountain.

“Pleasure in the Plains” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iu_2nVJonqA